Damning report on Humberside police

Pressure increases on chief constable who failed to pass on information about Huntley
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The Independent Online

The pressure on David Westwood, the chief constable of Humberside police, which failed to pass on vital intelligence about Ian Huntley, increased dramatically today as it emerged that his force is officially judged to be failing.

An interim report prepared by Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary after a detailed assessment of the force in September contains a number of damning criticisms, The Independent on Sunday has learnt.

Significantly, HMIC included a critique of the force's "leadership and direction" in its report, seen by ministers.

Mr Westwood, 55, has emerged as a likely casualty of the Soham case after it emerged that he oversaw a policy of deleting allegations after just one month from electronic police records.

The procedure, which he insists was necessary to comply with the Data Protection Act, meant that details of four allegations of rape and three of sex with under-age girls against Huntley were not passed to Cambridgeshire police when he was vetted for the job as caretaker at Soham Village College.

David Blunkett, the Home Secretary, ordered an inquiry into the "real concerns" about the vetting of Huntley immediately after his conviction for the murders of Jessica Chapman and Holly Wells on Wednesday. The inquiry is to be chaired by the former Whitehall mandarin Sir Michael Bichard.

The timing of the inquiry, expected to report within a few months, could be fatal for Mr Westwood since it is set to coincide with the final HMIC "baseline assessment" of his force's performance, due out in early April.

The Humberside force is to be re-inspected in January, but unless it finds dramatic improvements the HMIC report is likely to speed the chief constable's departure.

Last night the Home Office and the force itself admitted that the initial inspection had found a number of significant problems. "The HMIC has identified a number of areas where there is room for improvement and is working with Humberside," a Home Office spokesman said.

A spokesman for Humberside police admitted that it had been marked as a "poor performer". "We welcome any inspection that identifies areas for improvement," he said.

Meanwhile, the Government is to renew a push for the introduction of national identity cards in an attempt to prevent another tragedy like the Soham murders.

Ministers believe that the cards would prevent people like Huntley from using alternative identities or aliases to conceal their violent and sexually deviant histories from potential employers.

It is understood that the Bichard inquiry may examine the potential role of biometric intelligence, where iris scans and face recognition, for example, are used in combating serious crime.

Hazel Blears, the police minister, gave a green light to Sir Michael to consider whether ID cards would improve vetting procedures in the Commons on Thursday.

The Home Affairs Select Committee is to investigate whether biometric ID cards would have stopped Huntley evading justice for so long and whether they can prevent further abuses of the system.

Ministers are also planning to widen the powers of the Criminal Records Bureau to include checks on school support staff. CRB staff will also be granted direct access to the Police National Computer, which holds records on offenders, for the first time.